Gil Scott-Heron is best known for his work in the 70s and 80s as a spoken word artists, whose work was a fusion of jazz, blues, soul with lyrical content, which focused on the sociopolitical concerns of the time, delivered in a style that at times resembled rapping; in fact, much ink has been spilled on how Scott-Heron’s two most popular work Pieces of a Man, Winter in America, and “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” have influenced contemporary music – in particular, how his work has influenced hip-hop and neb-soul.
In the last decade of his life, Scott-Heron battled drug addition and had several stints in prison; however, he was still a remarkably prolific artist, recording and touring when he was able. Just before he died, Scott-Heron released the critically praised album I’m New Here and finished work on a memoir, which was published posthumously. Interestingly, around the same time, the legendary artist went into the studio and recorded stripped down versions of some of his best known material, in which he accompanied himself on piano with no overdubs or extra studio production – and as you can imagine, it gives the material a raw, urgency. The material was largely unreleased and unheard until XL Recordings released the material as Nothing New on what would have been the legendary artist’s 65th birthday. And on what would have been his 66th birthday, the material will be made averrable digitally through iTunes and other digital sources.
The album’s first single “Alien (Hold on to Your Dreams)” revealed that jazz, blues and soul were among some of the earliest influences on what was arguably one of the modern music’s most controversial, interesting and deeply influential artists. The second single “Pieces of a Man” continues on that, although the song is a more of a mournful blues on man’s fragility in the face of a cruel, uncaring world – a world that will break you apart like “jagged jigsaw puzzles tossed about the room.” In some way, the sparseness of this version gives the song a haunting, spectral feel. Scott-Heron’s ghost still lingers in the corner, reminding us that life is short and that there’s much work to do.